OVER recent weeks, we’ve heard lots from HS2 sceptics on their latest criticisms of the project, or the latest wheeze for new ways to spend the high-speed rail budget.
But the fact remains that Britain has been a divided country for too long, and HS2 is the only game in town that addresses the North-South imbalance.
There are alarming and unjust disparities in wealth and opportunity between our cities and regions.
London and the South East have attracted Government and private investment and have continued to thrive to the point of over-heating.
In spite of progress in Leeds and Manchester, the general story is that the great cities of the North and their so-important hinterlands, once the ‘crown jewels’ of the Industrial Revolution, have seen decades of slower growth, lower productivity and often stagnant wages.
The quality of transport links has been and remains a critical factor in this malaise. Has it ever been clearer that a capital investment programme is needed?
The upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review is an opportunity for the Government to commit to addressing this imbalance and bringing Britain back together again.
Published today, the High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL) report – Why Britain Needs HS2 – details how, in the words of Midlands businessman Sir John Peace, HS2 is fundamentally about smashing the North-South divide.
Without HS2, put simply, the country has no strategy to achieve this. The business connectivity benefits from HS2 range from 19-23 per cent in the city regions of the North and Midlands, compared to only a nine per cent improvement for London.
This is why HS2 – along with complementary investments for travel within city regions – is so vital to the economic transformation of the North.
We already know that cities across the North are developing urban strategies and securing public investment on the assumption that HS2 is completed. One example is the regeneration of the South Bank in Leeds, which is based around the arrival of the new railway line. Sheffield, too, will be much better connected to Leeds by HS2 as well as to London. York will also get HS2 services.
But it isn’t only the major cities that will benefit. The advantages of HS2 will spread widely to places beyond those on the line of route. By freeing up capacity on existing railway lines, we estimate that people in at least 22 cities and towns will benefit from better rail services as result of HS2. In Yorkshire alone, this includes people in Bradford, Wakefield, Doncaster and Hull.
In recent months, the debate about whether the project should proceed has never been louder. In the course of the Conservative leadership contest, it has been suggested that Northern Powerhouse Rail should be prioritised above HS2.
However, pitting the two projects against each other is a false choice. It needs to be understood that HS2 helps deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail. We didn’t have to choose between the M62 and M1 motorways, and the North should not have to make a false choice between decent East-West and North-South rail services, when an effective overall network is what is needed.
HS2’s detractors have also been highly critical of its costs. Nationally transformative infrastructure projects, we acknowledge, are costly. But when considered as part of the Government’s overall spending programme, the costs of HS2 are both affordable and good value.
HS2 is a large-scale project but its costs amount to less than 0.4 per cent of total public spending in the period ahead. And its estimated benefits – which cautiously do not presume a re-vitalised Northern economy – are roughly double its costs.
HSRIL has set out the evidence in our new report. There is one inescapable conclusion. HS2 must be delivered in full. There is no Plan B for tackling the North-South divide.
The country has been divided for too long. We need HS2 to begin the process of bringing Britain back together again.
Jim Steer is director of High Speed Rail Industry Leaders.